... A Very Good Place To Start

Tablecloths, tablecloths, tablecloths!

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Season Five is off and running! We begin with a trip down Memory Lane: This challenge is set in Gristedes, the grocery store chain where we launched season one of Project Runway. Austin Scarlett, the winner of that first challenge, presents the 16 designers with the parameters, with innovation and creativity being the key operative words. The designers have 30 minutes to shop at Gristedes with a budget of $75, and their design can be anything that they want to create. As the show's faithful viewers will know, I don't tell the designers what to do. Rather, I probe and query to hopefully trigger them to ask themselves whether their direction is appropriate and will lead to success. Therefore, it took serious discipline for me to contain myself while they were shopping, because so many of them seemed to view Gristedes as an annex of MOOD; that is, a textile store. Why were so many of the designers selecting tablecloths and shower curtains as their materials for this challenge? We went to a grocery store, because we wanted to get away from fabric and its relatives! Didn't any of the designers see Austin's cornhusk dress?!?!?

When we returned to the workroom at Parsons, the designers had until midnight to complete their look. Austin Scarlett would join us, again, the next day as our guest judge. Kelli WINS! This is, indeed, a great way to being the new season! Kelli created a short, A-line skirt out of vacuum cleaner bags that she bleached and dyed. She paired this with a corset top made out of muslin, the waistband of which was covered with gold thumbtacks and the bust was defined with burned coffee filters. Both garments were secured by using a spiral binding from a notebook as the closure, which was brilliantly executed. From a distance, there was no indicator that this look wasn't fresh from Fashion Week, which was precisely the goal of this challenge. Congratulations, Kelli!

Jerry is OUT. In my view, Jerry was too literal-minded and over-thought the challenge, because god knows he's a talented designer. His troubles began at Gristedes, where he purchased a shower curtain, a plastic tablecloth, and some first-aid gauze. He designed a dress that was enshrouded by a hooded coat. And everything was white, white, white, including white rubber boots for the runway. The only spot of color came from a pair of yellow rubber gloves. Frankly, his model looked like she was going out to dump nuclear waste. It was not a pretty sight. Bye-bye, Jerry. Blayne designed a look that was nothing if not innovative. He created a Blade Runner-esque "one-sie," I believe he creatively called it, out of drawer/shelf liner and oven mitts. He accented it with an undulating panel of woven jump ropes and shoelaces. I applauded the fact that Blayne challenged himself with untraditional materials (the point of the challenge, thank you), but the judge's were dubious about the success of his look. Walk a mile in our shoes, judges!

Daniel could have easily been the winner. He created an engineering marvel by molding blue plastic cups, only, to form a strapless cocktail dress with a sweetheart neckline. A few of his peers snickered at the simplicity of his look, but that was the point: the purity of his cups-only approach was how he was able to achieve sophistication. Bravo, Daniel!

Emily used a cheap, tired, and stale polyester lace tablecloth for a basic shift dress. I was correspondingly woeful. She assured me that her design for the neckline would eclipse the dress by becoming the single focal point. Really? The neckline was created out of pleated blue napkins and embellished with barely blown up balloons in red and green. Emily was correct that it became the focal point, but it did not mitigate the lace shirt. And when it walked the runway, the shift was belted with one of the Bluefly.com accessories. That belt did not help he look. I'm merely happy that she's still in.

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Jennifer used rolls and rolls of paper towels, the idea of which excited me (I'm a paper towel aficionado), but the palette -- white, only, and a dreary white at that -- troubled me. She had nothing in the way of color, but she considered using "something" to serve as a dye I didn't care what is was, as long as it liven up the look. When I called time and we walked to the runway, I was startled to see that "something" was scattered lip prints. All that Jennifer had to help her was her lipstick. This was a true "make it work" moment, and she did!

Jerell used, and I thought my eyes were deceiving me, the same polyester lace tablecloth as Emily! Why? How? At least it was merely a skirt (see what I'm grateful for!), but it was still a lotta look. Thankfully, his lawn chair bodice was inventive and beautiful, and the neckline of cocktail parasols was a great touch of wit. And I laughed out loud at the parasols in the model's hair. Judges, please keep your eyes above her waistline! Joe totally eluded me in the workroom. When I left the designers that night, he was going to "paint" the muslin infrastructure with tomato paste and sauce. Imagine the smell on the runway? Imagine the visual association with blood? And that's not a good metaphor. I have to say that I loved his oven mitt bodice: Elsa Schiaparelli meets Claire McCardell. But the skirt was going to matter, needless to say. The next morning, and to my great relief, the skirt had neither sauce nor paste. Instead, Joe used the labels from the cans and embellished them with fusilli pasta. Viva Italiano!

Keith and Suede chose the same navy and white checkerboard plastic tablecloth for the core of their design. In Keith's case, the silhouette and proportions were good, and, owing to wide pleating in the skirt, we could see the lighter reverse of the print. I responded well to his design, but for the tablecloth aspect. But most of the designers had this issue, so Keith would not stand alone. But he had to do something else to enhance the look. He opted to cut up an aluminum foil car shade for a wide waistband. This served him well, as it accentuated the bell silhouette of the skirt and the sleekness oif the halter top. Hopefully, the judges would respond as well as I.

Kenley embraced innovative, thankfully. She cut up a plastic ball to create a breastplate, and she used the webbing from a colorful lawn chair for an asymmetrical patchwork skirt. Her only use of the dreaded tablecloth was for a waistband, so I forgave her. The bright, effervescent dress that she created truly exuded fashion.

Korto used a yellow paper tablecloth for the entirety of her look, and that concerned me enormously. To me, the floor length kimono sleeved dress that she created was a mere derivation of the Han-Bok, the traditional costume of Korea. Even her use of the kale and tomato neck embellishment concerned me, because it was merely that, an embellishment. On Korto's behalf, I was relieved (and a little stunned) that the judges responded so positively to her design. In fact, they singled it out as one of the top three. I was puzzled, but go figure.Leanne designed a confection of a dress out of a pink plastic tablecloth (Oy! I can barely type that word anymore!) that was adorned with pink meringue cookies, pink marshmallows, and ruffled flourishes of white coffee filters. I loved the silhouette and proportions, and the exuberance of the back of the bodice was masterful. I'm eager to see more from her!

Stella. Oh, Stella. Her time in the workroom can best be summarized by the word, "stalled." She was a mass of indecision. She struggled with a red plastic tablecloth, but feared that she didn't have enough of it. Terri offered to give her some of her same red plastic, which was enormously generous, and I gave both of them permission to do this. So, what happened to the red plastic? I don't know. All that I know is that at the last minute, Stella swapped it out for those nasty, flimsy black garbage bags. The look that she created was preposterous, a deformed apron, in my opinion. My certainty that she would be a goner was underscored by my longing for the red plastic tablecloth. Now there's a statement!

Suede used a navy and white checkerboard plastic tablecloth (it screamed "picnic!") for the core of his strapless dress. And I was amused by his use of doggy clean-up bags for the ruffle embellishment at the hem and neckline. Thankfully, he broke up the expanse of the picnic tablecloth with blue transparent plastic squares, the source of which continue to elude me. What are they? In any case, he mitigated the tablecloth dilemma and passed through unscathed. Terri wowed me with the weaving and of the mop heads to form the top of her look. It was innovation, resourceful, and beautifully proportioned. Why, then, did she choose to pair it with that lackluster red plastic (tablecloth) skirt? I found the skirt to be a throwaway and I feared that it may detract from the resounding success of the top. Thankfully, she got by.

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Wesley used a yellow paper tablecloth to create a mini-dress with cut up and gradated yellow plastic cups serving as a single shoulder strap. And he cut and twisted flyswatters for embellishment. Frankly, but for the tablecloth aspect, I loved his look, especially the surprise factor of his use of the cups and flyswatters. But, oh that tablecloth ...

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What's Next

Words of advice to Leanne, Korto, and Kenley.

Leanne put together something that was interesting and sophisticated and it definitely had a point of view. In a weird way she managed to have a focused collection that still had variety. She took an idea and she stretched it. The clothes were young as well as sophisticated at the same time.

What's next for her? Well, everyone thinks that they have to put on this big runway show and that's not necessarily always the case. I think her clothes are very much about seeing the workmanship, the detailing and all that, so I definitely think she's got the goods to do her own thing. I don't think she should feel obliged to do a big show right away. I think there's something to be said about things growing slowly and organically and that might be better for her. Then people can really see the clothes up close, because when you put the kind of workmanship into something that's understated, things can get lost. She could do a fun presentation, maybe, or a still life on mannequins. I don't think she necessarily has to rush out and put on a whole show. I think her clothes will be appreciated in both Europe and Japan so she should probably think about bringing it over her line to Paris where you're going to find more of the European buyers as well as the Asian buyers. Once again, I think her clothes will do really well in Asia. I think they have an understanding of sophisticated workmanship. You're not going to see her clothes in the local mall. They're not for that. She's got to keep it high-end and sophisticated and keep her focus, which I think she will.As for Korto's collection. I remember the beads well. There was one asymmetrical dress where the beads were built in and I loved that. Everything she wanted her collection to be - ethnic without being costume-y, playful with color - she managed to hit that with certain parts of the collection. But I think the necklaces, when they were just necklaces on their own, looked added.

With Kenley the reality is you have to have a confidence in what you do and you have to believe that you're right. A designer needs a big ego because you really are going around and telling people "You're wrong and I'm right." But I think that there are ways to do it gracefully. It's the kind of industry where you're always going to have good feedback, bad feedback, or sometimes no reaction, whether it's the woman in a store, the buyer, or the press. It's always a public thing, not a private thing. The important thing to remember is as much as it might burn you when someone criticizes you, the real reality is you don't have to take it totally verbatim. I think she takes things totally verbatim. And one can listen and say, "I got what you're saying but I'm ultimately going to do what I want to do, thanks for the input" and maybe you will learn something. You should learn something. When you think you know it all at 25 then your career's going to be really short. The whole point of fashion is that you never know it all. She's gotta learn how to keep her point-of-view and her confidence, but learn how to be a little more of a lady. Granted, being tough never hurt anyone in fashion.She's obviously got a point-of-view. She's got a great hand. The painting on those clothes was just gorgeous. In general, the quality and the craftsmanship of everything she sent out was beautiful. But I think when people are dress designers, which is really what she is, it doesn't make for the most compelling fashion show. It might make a very nice line. I think that in history there have been a lot of designers who are "dress houses," so to speak. They don't do a whole collection and they can have very successful businesses. It's hard to tell a varied story when you are so specifically dress-oriented and especially when your look is so particular. So I think she could put a line together and do very well with it. There's always going to be someone who likes something feminine and flirty and she's another one where I don't necessarily think the runway is always going to be her best friend. I think the greatest thing that has happened from the show in the last five seasons is that it's certainly made people aware that their clothes don't just appear in their closet. It's kind of like knowing the farmer who grows the crop. Suddenly you have an appreciation for the food that's on your table. I think that Runway has really opened people's eyes to know that this is an incredibly difficult endeavor and it takes real tenacity and talent.

I think that's the greatest part of the show for me. I'm a real fashion person so when something turns the corner and I think it's really spectacular that's the greatest moment for me. When Christian's show started and I saw the chicness of this 3-Musketeers silhouettes I thought "Wow." Same thing with Leanne. I look at the whole thing lined up and I think this is what we're here for. I'm happy when it looks great. My other highlight is sometimes just losing it laughing. Whether it's the wrestling challenge or... just losing it laughing in general! As much as I love it all and we are excited about it and spend so much time doing it, at the end of they day, they are just clothes. And sometimes it's good to just laugh about it all.

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